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More Critical Shrinking: Rex Reed Out at the Observer

By: David Sheward

Just as Trump has pulled out of the Paris climate change accords, New York-based media is pulling out of theater coverage. As I have noted in previous blogs, print and web outlets are cutting back on stage critics or eliminating them altogether. Someone on Facebook said being a theater critic these days is like being in a long, slow version of Ten Little Indians, the Agatha Christie murder mystery where guests on an isolated island are picked off one by one. Rex Reed, the longtime film critic of the New York Observer,

More Critical Shrinking: Rex Reed Out at the Observer

By: David Sheward

Just as Trump has pulled out of the Paris climate change accords, New York-based media is pulling out of theater coverage. As I have noted in previous blogs, print and web outlets are cutting back on stage critics or eliminating them altogether. Someone on Facebook said being a theater critic these days is like being in a long, slow version of Ten Little Indians, the Agatha Christie murder mystery where guests on an isolated island are picked off one by one. Rex Reed, the longtime film critic of the New York Observer, was recently let go after 25 years, according to IndieWire. Reed also covered theater for the publication which was bought by Jared Kushner in 2006. The president’s son-in-law divested himself of the paper to take a position in the White House and sold his interest to his brother who is apparently running it into the ground (or so Reed claims). Reed’s theater coverage has been sparse, mostly Broadway or Off-Broadway only if there are major names involved. The last stage production he reviewed was War Paint. His last Off-Broadway review was Yen, probably because it featured Oscar nominee Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea).

Rex Reed

Reed has been a prominent figure in arts journalism and is known as a gadfly celebrity himself. He made controversial headlines recently for body-shaming Melissa McCarthy and shoplifting CDs (he claimed it was due to a “senior moment” of forgetfulness). He came to prominence in the 1960s with a series of high-profile interviews collected in Do You Sleep in the Nude? and People Are Crazy Here. He appeared in the cult bomb Myra Breckenridge, based on Gore Vidal’s satiric novel, as the pre-op version of a transgendered Raquel Welch and as himself in the first Superman movie. I can remember him co-hosting the Mike Douglas Show for a week back in the 1970s.

There are no apparent plans to replace Reed. The Observer had previously used Jesse Oxfeld to cover theater more extensively than Reed but he was let go in a series of layoffs and cuts. Linda Winer of Newsday and David Cote of Time Out New York have also left their posts, Winer voluntarily and Cote due to “restructuring.” After 30 years as one of the few women critics on the scene, Winer resigned from Newsday stating she does not like the direction her publication is going in with stage coverage–shorter reviews and lists substituting for more in-depth pieces. Cote was cut presumably to save the budget of Time Out which is now distributed for free. Newsday will presumably continue reviews. Elisabeth Vincentelli, late of the New York Post, covered Venus and The Whirligig, for the Long Island-based paper on a freelance basis. Cote reviewed Pacific Overtures for the Village Voice. Adam Feldman, the other staff critic for Time Out, continues on and takes over Cote’s position as theater editor, supplementing Cote’s caseload with freelancers.

Feldman is also the president of the New York Drama Critics Circle which recently handed out its annual awards to Oslo (Best Play) and The Band’s Visit (Best Musical). (Reed was not a member of the Drama Critics Circle, but is in the NY Film Critics Circle.) The Drama Critics Circle’s award ceremony at 54 Below was a somewhat melancholy affair with several members no longer regularly employed. In addition to Cote, Winer, Oxfeld, and Vincentelli, Elysa Gardner was bounced from her perch at USA Today which has cut theater coverage altogether. Michael Feingold has been reinstated at the Voice, thanks to a change in management, and Jesse Green is leaving New York Magazine’s Vulture web page, to take over the vacancy at the NY Times caused by Charles Isherwood’s firing. Green will have to leave the Circle because of the Times‘ ridiculous policy of not allowing its critics to participate in award-bestowing. Isherwood is now writing for the Broadway News website. He is suing the Grey Lady for wrongful dismissal and an arbitration hearing is scheduled for June 6. The reasons for Isherwood’s booting have not been made public, but rumors swirl about his too-friendly relationship with producers Scott Rudin and Robyn Goodman. Jeremy Gerard was cut from Deadline as a staff writer, but has continued extensively writing for the show-biz site without a break as a free-lancer.

How will the NYDCC carry on with so many of its members no longer full-time, regular scribes? The issues will be addressed at the group’s fall meeting. (Full disclosure: I am a member of the New York Drama Critics Circle, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle.)